Steve Rowell

Forest Threnody


Forest Threnody was a collaboration with composer-activist Yii Kah Hoe (Borneo, Malaysia) and performance at the Garrison Theater, Scripps College, Claremont on November 1, 2015.

The composition, part of my visiting professor position at Scripps College, is intended to draw attention to the catastrophic environmental destruction in South East Asia, particularly on Borneo. My contribution was a single-channel video and two-channel sound work which was mixed, live, into the choir performance. The video was culled from hundreds of miles of satellite imagery swaths of the rainforests and palm plantations of Borneo island. The audio drone was generated from the visual data of the satellite imagery using a custom-built software patch for MAX. The treetops of rainforests appear as irregular shapes, palm plantations as dotted grids, waste ponds as blotches, roads and canals as lines cutting through the forest floor. Each of these visual shapes, moving vertically, triggered different tones. The software autonomously created a sonic impression of the disturbed, post-natural landscape – chopped down, burned, cleared, terraformed, exploited, wasted. The experience of viewing and listening creates a sense of both ease and unease with the drone modulating between harmonious and dissonant, both reflecting and contrasting the scrolling visual impression of the ground below. This work compresses the distance between the orbiting satellite camera with the landscape on Earth, annihilating the space and time between the viewer and the environmental crisis occurring at this very moment.

Steve Rowell and Yii Kah Hoe
Awakening to the Environment
November 1, 2015 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Garrison Theater, Scripps College, Claremont

Yii Kah Hoe, composer
Steve Rowell, video/drone
Stacey Fraser, soprano
Anne Harley, soprano
Robert Seaback, software programmer
The Claremont Concert Choir
Commissioned by Environlab Asia.